There's a skill to it. Smoothing the arch, creating the heel just so, precisely adjusting to ensure the body it bears balances; never wobbling, never teetering, never falling and betraying itself for the inanimate thing that it is.
He cups the foot in his hands, running a thumb along the instep, feeling the give of dead flesh denied the chance to sink into rigor and rot. Even this, his greatest creation, needs this work. Wood it is not and despite his best efforts, the tendons do tend to shorten. And the toes are too prone to snapping, and the tiny tarsal bones to cracking and crumbling. Without them the entire structure totters. Without them, the humanity within the inhumanity falls and with it, the totality of the lie he cloaks around himself would flutter away as so much fog on the breeze.
No, this is a task he embraces. This is work for the soul as much as the hands. Labour that makes his heart sing.
A nail is lifted tenderly from its bed and placed with all due care to one side. Below, into tissue once kept safe from harm, he carefully, painstakingly, roots springs and coils and wire and spines that will turn a simple atrophied claw into the most efficient poison delivery system since the first mamushi sank its fangs into a passing farmer.
It takes time. It takes sweat and blood and tears that drop from eyes that surely cannot cry forever. Sand collects in his hair, caught in strands the colour of the blood he drained from this ungrateful, soon to be great and full, corpse. Like crystallised salt, it patters from the cuffs of his robe and he flicks it away - away, far away - from his charge.
No simple sand here, oh no. Iron sand alone; magnet born, drawn and shaped and thrown and spat like liquid death into enemy eyes.
Wind whips, lifting the canvas corner of his workshop, chasing heat and devils into the cooling gloom. All this he ignores, utterly consumed in his task, his concentration complete and entire. The world may end in thunderous cacophony and he would be none the wiser, for he must – must – get this right. Yet he cannot bring himself to regret it. There is something profound, something uplifting. To graft and grind on this, the basest of limbs and in doing so, raise all to perfection. For in that perfection resides the antithesis of squalling, dripping humanity. And in that antithesis he finds the slimmest tendrils of hope.
Task complete, he lifts it to his face, cradled heel and ball between his hands, and brings it to his mouth, runs his tongue along the toe's tip tasting for anything out of place, feeling for the slightest prick of pointers not concealed.
"Ah," he sighs, relishing air rushing across the arching subtly of cuniform and navicular, rising to caress a talus as yet untouched, "Ah."
With the end in sight, weariness overtakes him. With hands strictly kept from shaking, he repositions the foot and takes extra minutes to insert the intricate wedges and clamps that will keep all secure until morning. Until light returns. Until he can touch again.
Only then does he notice his thirst, register the way his tongue adheres to the roof of his mouth, how his eyelids scratch as they open and close. So useless, so pathetic, so inferior. He takes a last look, mapping the bold strong shape and remembering with aching hands how right it felt in his embrace. Promises himself that tomorrow – tomorrow, he will have this again, before leaving to service frail human flesh.
As he lies in silence that night listening to scorpions skitter across the rocks, he examines his commitment. To this most enduring of endeavours. It is taxing, in the extreme. He can feel the toll it takes, and yet the prize... The prize soars before him in all its endowed splendour. Immutability, stability, longevity, the persistence of existence that is the epitome of true artistic endeavour. So yes, his commitment abides. In this he will succeed for he is Sasori of the Red Sand and true art endures. And at its base, its root, at its very beginning, lies the foot. The taker of the first step on the journey everlasting.